Timberwolves end Rockets' nine-game win streak
(TSX / STATS) -- MINNEAPOLIS -- Watching another vanish against the Houston Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves were thinking about the last time they faced Houston in Minnesota. Then, in a December meeting, the Rockets won in overtime after erasing a 21-point Timberwolves lead, including a 12-point lead with two minutes left.
With the previous meeting still fresh in their minds, Minnesota's players weren't going to let another game slip away.
Andrew Wiggins scored 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns posted his ninth straight double-double with 23 points and 18 rebounds as the Timberwolves held on to beat Houston 119-105 on Wednesday night.
"A lot," Towns said of how much he was thinking about the previous loss to the Rockets. "I'm not going to joke with you. When we got to the fourth quarter with that kind of lead, you can't let it slide. Knowing they were on that winning streak last time, we gave them one. We did a great job of just making sure we kept the lead and stayed disciplined, and did what we needed to do."
Ricky Rubio had 10 points and tied his career high and a franchise best with 17 assists in the Timberwolves' second straight win.
"Especially tonight, we see a ghost after losing a lead, 12-point lead with two minutes," Rubio said, recalling the last meeting. "I think that it couldn't be possible. It did. Tonight we learned a lesson and we kept attacking, especially running back on defense."
Brandon Rush had 12 points on four 3-pointers in his first start for Minnesota and Shabazz Muhammad added 20 points off the bench. The Timberwolves (13-26) were without third-leading scorer Zach LaVine.
James Harden had 33 points, six rebounds and 12 assists for Houston (31-10), which had its league-best, nine-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Anderson added 18 points, but the Rockets shot 41.4 percent from the floor and 15 of 42 on 3-pointers.
"We missed a lot of uncharacteristic shots," Anderson said. "We normally get stops and it fuels our offense on the other side. But they did a great job of being aggressive on us. We didn't play our game."
Yet, the Rockets appeared ready to post another comeback win.
Wiggins scored 15 points in the first quarter as Minnesota led by as many as 11, and Houston missed its first six 3-pointers.
The Rockets worked their way back within one at the end of the first half after finishing on an 8-2 run that included a buzzer-beating, 31-foot 3-pointer by Nene Hilario. Harden started the second half with a 3, giving Houston its first lead since 9-8.
Unlike the December meeting, Minnesota answered. Rubio found Muhammad for two fast-break dunks and Towns sent a pass the length of the court to Wiggins for another as the Timberwolves ended the third quarter on a 21-6 run.
"We weren't real good defensively," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We were like running in mud. It's just with a couple players down, and playing big minutes, and back-to-back, these guys have been pretty tough and it's getting tougher. We just ran into one of those nights that we just didn't have it."
Rubio scored four points in the quarter and assisted on eight of Minnesota's 12 field goals in the quarter.
The Timberwolves edged the lead out to 21 early in the fourth quarter before Anderson and the Rockets started to hit from 3. The league's sixth-best 3-point shooting team, Houston was 7 of 14 from 3-point range in the fourth. Anderson connected for three of them and the Rockets closed to within 12, before Minnesota held on.
"It was there because in the fourth quarter they start hitting 3 after 3 after 3," Wiggins said. "You kind of just remember. You just try to play it safe, and play your game and stay with it. At the end, we were kind of trading buckets, but we were up big. So, it was in our favor."
NOTES: Minnesota SG Zach LaVine warmed up but was ruled out before the game with a left hip contusion. LaVine, who leads the league in minutes per game and is averaging 20.4 points per game, was injured in the previous game against Dallas. Brandon Rush started in his place. ... Houston was without reserve G Eric Gordon, who is averaging 17.8 points per game. Gordon didn't make the trip to Minnesota because of a sprained left big toe. ... Entering play, Houston had attempted 371 more 3-pointers than the next-closest team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. ... The Timberwolves' four-game homestand concludes Friday against Oklahoma City. The Rockets return home on Friday against Memphis.
Updated January 11, 2017